It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.
Sometimes I daydream about the day that a zombie apocalypse, impending asteroid strike, or perhaps giant insect attack will throw us into a Lost-like scenario where only those with intensely useful specialized skills will survive long enough to make it onto the ship destined for a distant planet to repopulate the human race. Nestled in there amongst the telephone sanitizers and hairdresserss would be me. My special skill? Making kick-ass quesadillas.
Here's how it's done.
Step 1: Choose Fillings Wisely
There are a few tricks when it comes to making great quesadillas. Stuffing plays no small part in it. The day after Thanksgiving, that means turkey, along with shredded cheese (a good melting one like Jack or mozzarella-like Oaxacan string cheese), a secondary ingredient (you can go with leftover sweet potatoes or brussels sprouts or, as in this case, canned beans), and—and this is of vital importance—something pickled.
That extra kick of vinegar is the key to brightening up its flavor. My usual choice is some chopped up pickled jalapeño, though in this case, I'm going with the pickled banana peppers I had leftover from my green bean salad the night before.
I stuff generously, but always use the fold-over method rather than trying to sandwich the filling between two flat tortillas.
Step 2: Use Plenty of Oil
This is the real trick. You want to use plenty of oil, and make sure that it's moderately hot before adding the quesadills. By essentially shallow frying it, you get that tortilla to puff and brown and crisp until it's all poofy and crackly. And who doesn't like poofy/crackly things?
It can be a little tricky to get the tortillas to brown without overcooking or burning. Moderate heat helps—going too hot will lead to a cold cheese center and burnt exterior. Keep the flame pretty low, and swirl those suckers around the pan to get them to cook evenly.
Step 3: Salt. Salt. Salt.
This ain't health food. Season those guys properly! That means as soon as you flip them over to their second side (carefully, that oil can splash!), season the sides you just cooked so that the salt will adhere to the hot surface.
Step 4: Serve Hot
That's about it. With just those few tips, your spot on Intergalactic Repopulation Shuttle B will be all but guaranteed. After all, we gotta make sure those colonists are well fed, right?
Get The Recipe!
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.